Swiss punch above their weight

Switzerland's contribution to the game has belied the small size of the Alpine nation.

©AFP/Getty Images

Switzerland is a fine example of a small country that has made the very best of its resources. Swiss football has emerged with a flourish and recent positive results attest to the hard work undertaken at all levels of the game.

The Swiss Football Association (Schweizerischer Fussballverband/Association Suisse de Football or SFV-ASF) is one of the biggest and most popular sporting associations in multilingual Switzerland, defending the interests of Swiss football nationally and internationally in the political, economic and social arenas.

The SFV-ASF, a financially independent body that does not require public funding, promotes both grassroots and elite football while attaching particular importance to the youth element. It can look back with legitimate pride on more than 100 years of history – a fluctuating timeline perhaps, but one showing more highs than lows on the pitch, especially in recent years. Indeed, a major peak was attained when Switzerland won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Nigeria in November 2009.

Qualification for the 1994 FIFA World Cup after a 28-year absence from the global showpiece, followed by the country's first participation at the UEFA European Championship – in England two years later – indicated the progress being made at senior level. These foundations were built on as the national team qualified successfully for UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal and the 2006 World Cup in Germany under coach Jakob Kuhn, and later for the 2010 and 2014 global finals with Ottmar Hitzfeld at the helm. In between times, the Swiss had co-hosted, together with Austria, UEFA EURO 2008.

In youth football too, great strides have been made. After seeing representative sides qualify for final tournaments at various age groups, the SFV-ASF could finally celebrate a victory proper in 2002: Switzerland caused a stir by winning that summer's UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Denmark. They threatened to repeat the feat by getting to the semi-finals of the same competition in May 2009, an achievement that earned the country's ticket to the U-17 World Cup later in the year. There, in Nigeria, Switzerland overcame Brazil in their concluding group game, then Germany, Italy, Colombia and Nigeria to become world champions.

Such positive results must also include the U21 squad's expedition to the UEFA European Championship semi-finals in 2002 on home soil, and then to the final in Denmark nine years later, which Switzerland lost 2-0 to Spain. All these exploits betray a great commitment to youth development.

A number of Swiss clubs have caught the eye in European competition too. BSC Young Boys from the Swiss federal capital Berne were the first to impress, advancing to the semi-finals of the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1959. FC Zürich subseqently matched that performance on two occasions. FC Basel 1893, meanwhile, have been a towering monument to Swiss football down the years, progressing as far as the UEFA Champions League second group stage in 2002/03 and then journeying to the semi-finals of the 2012/13 UEFA Europa League, where they succumbed over two legs to Chelsea FC, the eventual winners. Grasshopper Club Zürich, BSC Young Boys and Servette FC are other world-renowned teams produced by this Alpine nation.

Organised football in Switzerland has undergone a tremendous expansion, and today more than 240,000 players are active across 1,500-plus local associations. Under the aegis of the SFV-AFS, the game is played by over 12,800 sides. If, for the vast majority, the sport is merely a hobby, for a small number of elite players football is beyond a question of goals, points and keeping physically fit; it represents an opportunity to pursue international victories, fame and wealth.

The SFV-AFS has performed a weighty role in the football story. UEFA (Nyon) and FIFA (Zurich) also have their headquarters in Switzerland, and not only was UEFA founded in the country in 1954, but the then SFV-AFS president Gustav Wiederkehr made a significant contribution to the consolidation and growth of the fledgling institution, serving as UEFA President between 1962 and 1972.


Peter Gilliéron

Peter Gilliéron
Peter Gilliéron©UEFA

Nationality: Swiss
Date of birth: 5 May 1953
Association president since: 2009

• Raised in Italy, Peter Gilliéron moved to Switzerland with his family at the age of 13, where he played school football and went on to study law, earning his degree in 1978. He was first involved in football as president of Berne-based FC Minerva in the 1990s.

• An attorney at the Federal Department of Social Security, he later headed the law department at the Swiss Cheese Union, and in 1994 was elected as general secretary of the Swiss Football Association (SFV-ASF).

• Elected as president of the SFV-ASF in 2009, he said: "I see the election as reward for my achievements in all those years as general secretary. My goal is to take forward football in the whole country; western Switzerland and Ticino too. The SFV-ASF should help in fostering integration." He was re-elected unanimously for a further two-year term of office in May 2017.

General secretary

Robert Breiter

Robert Breiter
Robert Breiter©SFV-ASF

 Nationality: Swiss
Date of birth: 22 April 1973
Association general secretary since: October 2018

• Robert Breiter studied law in Berne and Paris before qualifying as an attorney.

• He joined the Swiss FA as legal counsel in 2002, and was appointed as head of the legal department and deputy general secretary in 2009.

• On his appointment as the association’s general secretary, he said: “I am honoured and delighted by the trust placed in me by the board. I am confident of tackling the many current and future challenges of our association as I have a very experienced team of highly motivated staff to count on at the headquarters of Swiss football. Together we plan to continue and build on the successful work of recent years.”